“Flex” was a great name for the first New York solo appearance by Kirsi Mikkola in nearly 15 years. Stretching the formal conceits of modernist collage both forward and backward in time, the exhibition, containing 13 intricate works in paper, marked Mikkola’s debut with Sue Scott Gallery. Born in Finland and currently residing in Berlin, the artist became known during the 1990s for colorful, cartoonish plaster sculptures. “Flex” brought New York audiences up to date on the enormous shift her work has undergone.

Mikkola refers to her new pieces, executed over the past few years, as “constructions,” but they are only dimensional in their highly textured surfaces; otherwise, they are completely flat. She does not call them “collages,” even though her process involves gluing painted paper shards—mere bits and biomorphic squiggles—into complex patterns and isometric grids sometimes suggestive of landscapes. The dates indicate that each construction can take anywhere from two to five years to complete (one piece took eight). Because most are no larger than 18 inches high or wide, their compressed, hypnotic surfaces become a physical record of time-consuming manual labor.

In some of the pieces, Mikkola compounded slivers of modulated grays and tans to create rough latticed structures that evoke everything from sun bonnets and raffia headdresses to primitive huts. Other constructions bring to mind scientific concepts—dark matter or the fourth dimension. In two of her most striking efforts, Mikkola tightly wove strands of color into what appear to be the x, y and z axes of an imploding grid, pulling the viewer deep into the kind of space usually seen on a computer screen. Spectacular too is a work in which a sensuous, undulating mass of red coils seems to contract and expand from deep within the frame.

Mikkola unifies her work as much through her color choices as through her technique of aggregation. Flecks of pure chroma—potent reds, yellows, violets and blues—move the eye first around a single picture and then the entire group. In proximity to such strong hues, more neutral shades are transformed into a shimmering, fugitive array. Mikkola’s sophisticated palette and unique manner of “finding” her images make it feel as if she is stepping aside, allowing the constructions to construct themselves. It’s not difficult to imagine an invisible circuit of magnetic forces at play in her studio, lifting a great cloud of colored bits off the tables and floor and gathering them into discrete compositions. The artist might think that she’s in control of her Etch-a-Sketch, but the energy that pulses through her work says otherwise.

Photo: Kirsi Mikkola: Untitled, 2009-10, painted paper construction, 393⁄8 by 271⁄2 inches; at Sue Scott.